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Homebrewing guide

Preparation

Plan one day for the actual brewing and three to five weeks for fermentation and maturation of the beer. It is important to put emphasis on good quality when purchasing the ingredients. 

You will need:

  • A mix of ground malted grains (or malted grains and your own grinder)
  • Drinking water
  • Yeast
  • Hops

Furthermore, the setting and equipment should be prepared prior to starting to avoid stress with moving things during the brewing process. 

This is the basic equipment you should have:

  • Recipe/brewing protocol
  • Brew kettle
  • High-voltage power outlet
  • Big wooden spoon
  • Food-safe barrels
  • Glass bottlesFunnels in different sizes
  • Glasses
  • Measuring device to determine the wort extract/alcohol content.

It is essential to have a good recipe (some can be found here) and the right grain mix and hops type for it.

There are many different types of malted grain in various roasts to influence the taste of your beer.

Also consider the kind of water you are using. If the tap water is chlorinated, it can negatively affect the taste of the beer. One solution might be to use bottled water.

After these preparations are met it is time to start brewing. Brewing can take up to eight hours.

Grinding

You can either buy a grain mix already grinded or you can grind it yourself. If you decide to do your own grinding, make sure that the mix is only coarsely ground (see image). The kernels should break up to let the starch out, but there should be no floury parts.

You can build your own grinder with a crushing mill and anything that has a rotary motor.

Mashing

The liquid/substance cooked during this process is called wort.
The mashing phases in which the wort is cooked at different temperatures are called rests.

Your recipe will tell you how much water you need for every brewing step that involves water as well as how long the different temperature phases have to be. For mashing, pour the required amount of water in the brew kettle and heat to the starting temperature. If your brew kettle has temperature regulation and can be programmed, you can set all the temperatures and running times for the rests.

Place the sieve in the brew kettle as required (that might depend on the kettle brand you are using) and pour the malted grain into the sieve.

Stir well, then start the temperature run. If your brew kettle is not programmable: Heat and leave at required temperatures by manually operating the brew kettle.

Ten minutes after mashing in you should do a pH test. The value should be between pH 5.3 and pH 5.5; if it isn’t you can take countermeasures like adding some lactic acid (80 %).

Stir the mash in-between rests so the grain and water mix well.

Before the last rest you should do an iodine test. This will make the leftover starch visible. If the color stays light, it is fine; if it looks like the picture, it is not. In this case you should prolong the penultimate rest at 73 °C.

Tip: Taste the wort in-between rests to find out how the sweetness changes as the starch and enzymes of the grain dissolve in the hot water.

When all the rests are finished, you can perform a first measurement of your wort (optional). It will show you the extract of your wort at this point in the brewing process – a first orientation for how much your original extract will be later on. Also, if something went wrong while mashing, e.g. too much starch is left over and was not turned into sugar, then you can see this in the extract value.

Lautering

This is what the draff looks like after lautering

Lautering more or less means separating the liquid from the solids. You can either let the wort drain from the sieve into the brew kettle or rinse your mash so all the wort is flushed out of the draff that you put away later.

Slowly take out the sieve and keep it a few inches above the wort.

Pour the required water amount over the draff bit by bit. Always let a bit of water drip through until the draff does not “swim” in water and then pour in more water.

When lautering is finished, you can measure the wort again to keep track of your extract value.

Boiling

During lautering, the wort will have cooled down a little. Now you have to heat it up again to 100 °C with the hood put on the brew kettle. The hood should have an opening to let the steam out. 

While the brew kettle heats take the hops out of the package and weigh them out according to your recipe. Usually there will be two hoppings during the boiling, so you will get two different portions. 

Add the first portion of hops and stir it in; then cook the wort for the time given in your recipe. Set an alarm to avoid missing the right time for the second hopping.

Separating the hot trub

In industrial brewing, there are special “whirlpools” where trub is separated by centrifugal force. You can do it manually if you stir the wort strongly in one direction until you see a vortex. The trub will be sucked to the center of the brew kettle. If you put the cooling coil above the center when cooling it will “catch” the trub in the center so it stays in the brew kettle when you pour out the wort. This will be explained in the following steps.

Cooling

Because it is now approaching the time to add yeast, the wort needs to cool down. The reason is that yeast is not a plant, but a living being which does not survive in very hot surroundings. Therefore, a temperature of about 15 °C to 20 °C is best for top-fermented beers.

To speed up the cooling, use a cooling coil.

For this method you need a water outlet to pump cold water through the coil, and a drain to lead the “waste” water away.

Cover the brew kettle during this procedure to prevent insects falling into the wort – this could “infect” your beer with e.g. lactic acid bacteria that would destroy the beer’s taste.

Now is the right time to measure and determine the “Original Extract” of the brew. Based on this value, further parameters (e.g. alcohol during and after fermentation) can be calculated.

Do not take the sample for this measurement out of the barrel, take it out of the brew kettle so you measure only your wort, no yeast. This time, filter your sample before measuring it. A standard coffee filter should be good enough for that.

Fermentation

Fermentation is the process that transforms wort into beer.

Tip: Prepare your barrel(s) first so you do not waste time doing it when wort and yeast are ready.

Mix the yeast with water according to your recipe. To save time, you can already do this while the wort is cooling down.

Let the mixture rest to activate the yeast. Detailed instructions might depend on the kind of yeast you are using and are often given on the package. At the end of the activation, add a teaspoon of sugar if needed.

Pour the yeast into the barrel(s) you prepared.

Put a funnel with a fine-mesh sieve on your barrel(s). Open the outlet of the brew kettle and let the wort slowly run into the barrel.

This is how the trub will look like when the brew kettle is almost empty – safely locked in the center of the cooling coil.

When the barrel(s) are filled, whisk the liquid to blend the yeast with the wort and to aerate the wort before fermentation starts. Then firmly close the barrel(s) with an airlock.

Now the fermentation starts: Let the beer ferment in a dark place, according to your recipe. The ambient temperature should be approximately 20 °C for top fermentation or 12 °C for bottom fermentation.

Secondary fermentation

Check the decreasing apparent extract on a daily basis by taking a few mL of the sample out of the spigot of the barrel. If the apparent extract does not change anymore (e.g. after seven to 14 days) you can calculate the amount of sugar for priming. If you don’t want to do this manually you can use this calculator to help you. The sugar has to be dissolved and carefully mixed with the fermented beer before you fill it into the glass bottles.

The secondary fermentation will take place in the closed glass bottles and generates the desired CO₂ content for your beer. Finally, let the beer mature for two to three weeks at preferably low temperatures (e.g. 4 °C).